PASADENA, Calif. - He may deal in million-dollar memorabilia, but at heart Joe Maddelena is just a star-struck fan. The man who sold Judy Garland's ruby slippers, Don Draper's cashmere overcoat from "Mad Men" and George Lucas' Panavision camera is the go-to guy when it comes to Hollywood treasures.
But Maddelena didn't start out that way. The son of antique dealers, he used to hang out at the comic and baseball sections of the antique shows. By the time he was 12 he was already selling them himself. "It just made sense. Back then you could rent the American Legion post for $25 for a day - this was 1973 and in Rhode Island," says Maddelena.
After attending college in L.A., he indulged his interest in rare books and manuscripts. "This is the early '80s. There was a lot of material on the West Coast and all the collectors were on the East Coast. So I'd find collectors in New York City dying to get Hammett and Fitzgerald and Faulkner and all the material was in California, so it was just a matter of hitting all the old dealers ... There were dealers everywhere."
He founded his company, Profiles in History, in 1986, unearthing and selling items of historical significance.
He also was a voracious reader and movie fan and began wondering how books were translated into screenplays. "When you read 'The Maltese Falcon' by Hammett how different is the screenplay? I realized he didn't write the screenplay. I wondered why. There was no Internet, you're researching on your own ... I just got interested. So I started collecting things from my favorite movies, 'The Wizard of Oz,' 'Gone With the Wind,' 'Citizen Kane.'"
Ten years later he thought of selling some of his prizes. "They weren't readily accessible," he says. "There was nowhere to go buy them, unlike the books and magazines where there was Sotheby's and Christie's where I could go out and buy and resell. So you had to go into the collectors' world."
He soon realized collectors were not ready sellers, so he began holding auctions as a sideline to his historical document collections.
That business snowballed for Maddelena, who now commands two large offices and warehouses in different parts of Southern California, an office staff of nine who field between 300 and 500 phone calls per day.
He holds two massive Hollywood auctions a year and hosts his own reality show, "Hollywood Treasures" on the Syfy Channel.
And there seems to be no limit to its scope. The show recently featured the creepy house from TV's "American Horror Story," priced at $12 million.
Sources can come from anywhere, he says. "Last week a guy called and said, 'My dad was the costumer for "Roots." I have all the original costumes - all of them, Alex Hailey's notes, everything.' Unlike baseball cards, coins, comic books and stamps everybody knows those are valuable. But, hey, Uncle Bob was a filmmaker and there's a bunch of boxes in the basement ... You don't know," he shrugs.
There are still treasures that elude him. "I'd heard years ago the Partridge Family bus was somewhere in south Los Angeles and somebody was living in it. People keep asking for the Mustang from "Bullitt." It'd be worth $10 million. It's one of the things that's missing."
Sometimes these gems are disguised as something else. Maddelena got a call from a man who had worked in the mountain village of Big Bear about 100 miles from Los Angeles. He told Maddelena the futuristic "chariot" from "Lost in Space" had been put to use in Big Bear.
"The chariot was basically a snow cat that had been retrofitted to look like this space age thing," he says. "When they wrapped production, it was sold to Big Bear and for 20 years it plowed the mountain ... So we tracked it down, and this guy in Riverside is restoring it back to the chariot. That stuff's cool."
Maddelena says he's propelled by a passion for movies. "I believe that filmmaking is important. I'm one of the few people who will stand up and have the eggs thrown at me: I think filmmaking is an art. I think there's no difference in painting a painting and making a movie. What goes into it, it's a lot of work, and it's all creative. So whatever you do - I can't draw a straight line but I have an imagination. I realized that it was an atrocity that there was nobody saving film culture and there was no museum," he shakes his head.
"I was in shock that you could find important things like amazing manuscripts of Faulkner. How is this not in a library? I took it up as a personal thing," he says.
"I want to celebrate the lives of these people who may not be a household name. When a movie star - Mr. Brando - shows up to do 'The Godfather' he's the last person hired. They've done all the work. Mario Puzo has written it, they've worked it all out, hired costumers, designers, set decorators.
"He's going to deliver a performance, but people don't realize, to get there, how much work was done. I was interested in that because I realized I couldn't comment on the acting, but I could definitely comment on everything that went up to that point."